Fresh new perspectives on the study of religion, ranging from SoulCycle to Mark Twain
American Examples: New Conversations about Religion, Volume Two, is the second in a series of annual anthologies produced by the American Examples workshop hosted by the Department of Religious Studies at The University of Alabama. In the latest volume from this dynamic academic project, nine scholars with diverse topics and methodologies vividly reimagine the meaning of all three words in the phrase “American religious history.” The essays use case studies from America, broadly conceived, to ask trenchant theoretical questions that are of interest to scholars and students beyond the subfield of American religious history.
Cody Musselman uses a Weberian analysis to explore questions of identity, authority, and authenticity in the world of SoulCycle while Zachary T. Smith finds commonality between the rhetoric and practices of scholarship and mixed martial arts. Erik Kline provides a new perspective on the psychedelic mysticism of the 1960s, and Brook Wilensky-Lanford takes stock of the cultural power of parody in Mark Twain’s last work of fiction. Christopher Cannon Jones examines the reciprocal relationship between religious texts and cultural contexts by comparing early Mormon missions to Hawai‘i and Jamaica and Lindsey Jackson explores what debates over circumcision can tell us about gender stereotypes and motherhood. Dana Lloyd uses the 1988 Supreme Court decision in Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association as a case study in order to consider how Indigenous religion and sovereignty have been understood and adjudicated in the American legal system. Matt Sheedy studies the identity categories of “atheist” and “ex-Muslim” and Brad Stoddard uses ethnographic fieldwork to evaluate the role of religious pluralism in regulating and policing correctional institutions. Editors Samah Choudhury and Prea Persaud provide an introduction that reconsiders the trajectory of the American Examples project in light of the siege on the US Capitol in January 2021 and the continuing COVID pandemic.
Michael J. Altman / Samah Choudhury / Lindsey Jackson / Christopher Cannon Jones / / Erik Kline / Dana Lloyd / Cody Musselman / Prea Persaud / Matt Sheedy / Zachary T. Smith / Brad Stoddard / Brook Wilensky-Lanford
Black Freethinkers argues that, contrary to historical and popular depictions of African Americans as naturally religious, freethought has been central to black political and intellectual life from the nineteenth century to the present. Freethought encompasses many different schools of thought, including atheism, agnosticism, and nontraditional orientations such as deism and paganism.
Christopher Cameron suggests an alternative origin of nonbelief and religious skepticism in America, namely the brutality of the institution of slavery. He also traces the growth of atheism and agnosticism among African Americans in two major political and intellectual movements of the 1920s: the New Negro Renaissance and the growth of black socialism and communism. In a final chapter, he explores the critical importance of freethought among participants in the civil rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and 1970s.
Examining a wealth of sources, including slave narratives, travel accounts, novels, poetry, memoirs, newspapers, and archival sources such as church records, sermons, and letters, the study follows the lives and contributions of well-known figures, including Frederick Douglass, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and Alice Walker, as well as lesser-known thinkers such as Louise Thompson Patterson, Sarah Webster Fabio, and David Cincore.
The autocratic rule of both tsar and church in imperial Russia gave rise not only to a revolutionary movement in the nineteenth century but also to a crisis of meaning among members of the intelligentsia. Personal faith became the subject of intense scrutiny as individuals debated the existence of God and the immortality of the soul, debates reflected in the best-known novels of the day. Friendships were formed and broken in exchanges over the status of the eternal. The salvation of the entire country, not just of each individual, seemed to depend on the answers to questions about belief.
Victoria Frede looks at how and why atheism took on such importance among several generations of Russian intellectuals from the 1820s to the 1860s, drawing on meticulous and extensive research of both published and archival documents, including letters, poetry, philosophical tracts, police files, fiction, and literary criticism. She argues that young Russians were less concerned about theology and the Bible than they were about the moral, political, and social status of the individual person. They sought to maintain their integrity against the pressures exerted by an autocratic state and rigidly hierarchical society. As individuals sought to shape their own destinies and searched for truths that would give meaning to their lives, they came to question the legitimacy both of the tsar and of Russia’s highest authority, God.
Asks freethinkers to declare their atheism in defiance of the stigmatization of disbelief.
With the rise of religious fundamentalism worldwide and a new 'spiritualism' in North America, expressed disbelief in God or gods has become a taboo once again in the Anglo-American world. In the last few years, however, atheism has witnessed a resurgence exemplified by the best-selling works of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.
Faith in Faithlessness is intended to contribute to the reassertion of the legitimacy of godlessness as a philosophical and moral stance. It is a unique anthology that presents a comprehensive selection of writings, by some of the world's most celebrated thinkers, past and present, who eloquently address the most significant questions concerning religious belief.
Included are essays by Benedict de Spinoza, Diderot, Paul-Henry Thiry D'Holbach, David Hume, Thomas Paine, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Stuart Mill, George Elliot, W.E.H. Lecky, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Charles Bradlaugh, Anatole France, Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, Robert G. Ingersoll, Ludwig Feuerbach, Michael Bakunin, Karl Marx, Emma Goldman, H.L. Mencken, Clarence Darrow, Carl Van Doren, Bertrand Russell, Sigmund Freud, Albert Camus, Albert Einstein, Francis Crick, Gore Vidal, Kai Nielsen, Christine Overall, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Michel Onfray, Elizabeth Second Anderson, Tariq Ali, Salman Rushdie, Kurt Vonnegut. Also included are other celebrity atheists and a major resource guide.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
FROM THE EARLY CLASSICS
1. Theologico-Political Treatise - Benedict de Spinoza
2. Thoughts on Religion - Denis Diderot
3. The System of Nature - Paul-Henry Thiry, Baron d'Holbach
4. The Natural History of Religion - David Hume
5. The Age of Reason - Thomas Paine
6. A Refutation of Deism - Percy Bysshe Shelley
7. Immortality - John Stuart Mill
8. Evangelical Teaching - George Eliot
9. The Spirit of Rationalism in Europe - W.E.H. Lecky
10. The Christian Church and Women - Elizabeth Cady Stanton
11. Humanity's Gain from Unbelief - Charles Bradlaugh
12. Miracle - Anatole France
13. Autobiography - Charles Darwin
14. The Antichrist - Friedrich Nietzsche
15. God and the Constitution - Robert G. Ingersoll
16. The Essence of Religion in General - Ludwig Feuerbach
17. God and the State - Michael Bakunin
18. Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right - Karl Marx
FROM THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY CLASSICS
19. The Philosophy of Atheism - Emma Goldman
20. On the Scopes Trial - H.L. Mencken
21. The Lord's Day Alliance - Clarence Darrow
22. Why I Am an Unbeliever - Clarence Darrow
23. Is There a God? - Bertrand Russell
24. The Claims of Theology - A.J. Ayer
25. The UNbelievers and the Christians - Albert Camus
26. Science and Religion - Albert Einstein
FROM THE LATER 20th CENTURY and 21st CENTURY
27. Monotheism and Its Discontents - Gore Vidal
28. How Is Atheism to Be Characterized? - Kai Nielsen
29. Atheism - Christine Overall
30. The Atheist Manifesto - Sam Harris
31. Why There Almost Certainly Is No God - Richard Dawkins
32. Religion as an Original Sin - Christopher Hitchens
33. In the Service of the Death Fixation - Michel Onfray
34. Thank Goodness! - Daniel C. Dennett
35. For the Love of Reason - Louise M. Anthony
36. If God Is Dead, Is Everything Permitted? - Elizabeth Second Anderson
37. An Atheist Childhood - Tariq Ali
A Rapper's Song - Greydon Square
38. Humanism and the Territory of Novelists - Salman Rushdie
39. Why My Dog Is Not a Humanist - Kurt Vonnegut
EPILOGUE: A New Enlightenment: The Second Wave - Dimitrios Roussopoulos
NOTES ON THE CONTRIBUTORS
RESOURCE GUIDE from the Website of Richard Dawkins
CREDITS AND PERMISSIONS
Celebrity quotes throughout, including from George Bernard Shaw, Voltaire, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Aldous HUxley, Tennessee Williams, Charles Bukowski, Jean-Paul Sartre, Noam Chomsky, Sigmund Freud, Ingmar Bergman, Katharine Hepburn, John Malkovich, Robert Altman, Jodie Foster, Bill Gates, Angelina Jolie, Jack Nicholson, Howard Stern, Isaac Asimov, Woody Allen, Richard Leakey, James Watson, Jean Roddenberry, Gloria Steinem.
DIMITRIOS ROUSSOPOULOS is author and/or editor of some eighteen books.
A collection of essays examining secular discourse in contemporary media spheres.
Diverse media ranging from print publications and TV series to social media platforms are crucial for producing and participating in the secular public sphere, setting the stage for debates, controversies, and activism related both specifically and non-specifically to atheistic discourse. Global Sceptical Publics brings together contributions that analyze the diverse ways in which a variety of religious skeptics, doubters, and atheists engage with different forms of media as the framework for understanding contemporary communication and the formation of nonreligious publics. With authors from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, the book contributes new insights to the growing field of nonreligion studies, in particular, by demonstrating how skeptical groups can unsettle preconceived expectations of the public sphere.
The central contention of the “New Atheism” of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens is that there has for several centuries been a war between science and religion, that religion has been steadily losing that war, and that at this point in human history a completely secular scientific account of the world has been worked out in such thorough and convincing detail that there is no longer any reason why a rational and educated person should find the claims of any religion the least bit worthy of attention.
But as Edward Feser argues inThe Last Superstition, in fact there is not, and never has been, any war between science and religion at all. There has instead been a conflict between two entirely philosophical conceptions of the natural order: on the one hand, the classical “teleological” vision of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas, on which purpose or goal-directedness is as inherent a feature of the physical world as mass or electric charge; and the modern “mechanical” vision of Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, and Hume, according to which the physical world is comprised of nothing more than purposeless, meaningless particles in motion. As it happens, on the classical teleological picture, the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and the natural-law conception of morality are rationally unavoidable. Modern atheism and secularism have thus always crucially depended for their rational credentials on the insinuation that the modern, mechanical picture of the world has somehow been established by science. Yet this modern “mechanical” picture has never been established by science, and cannot be, for it is not a scientific theory in the first place but merely a philosophical interpretation of science. Moreover, as Feser shows, the philosophical arguments in its favor given by the early modern philosophers were notable only for being surprisingly weak. The true reasons for its popularity were then, and are now, primarily political: It was a tool by which the intellectual foundations of ecclesiastical authority could be undermined and the way opened toward a new secular and liberal social order oriented toward commerce and technology. So as to further these political ends, it was simply stipulated, by fiat as it were, that no theory inconsistent with the mechanical picture of the world would be allowed to count as “scientific.” As the centuries have worn on and historical memory has dimmed, this act of dogmatic stipulation has falsely come to be remembered as a “discovery.”
However, not only is this modern philosophical picture rationally unfounded, it is demonstrably false. For the “mechanical” conception of the natural world, when worked out consistently, absurdly entails that rationality, and indeed the human mind itself, are illusory. The so-called “scientific worldview” championed by the New Atheists thus inevitably undermines its own rational foundations; and into the bargain (and contrary to the moralistic posturing of the New Atheists) it undermines the foundations of any possible morality as well. By contrast, and as The Last Superstition demonstrates, the classical teleological picture of nature can be seen to find powerful confirmation in developments from contemporary philosophy, biology, and physics; moreover, morality and reason itself cannot possibly be made sense of apart from it. The teleological vision of the ancients and medievals is thereby rationally vindicated – and with it the religious worldview they based upon it.
“[A] lucid and thoughtful book… In a spirit of reconciliation, Crane proposes to paint a more accurate picture of religion for his fellow unbelievers.” —James Ryerson, New York Times Book Review
Contemporary debate about religion seems to be going nowhere. Atheists persist with their arguments, many plausible and some unanswerable, but these make no impact on religious believers. Defenders of religion find atheists equally unwilling to cede ground. The Meaning of Belief offers a way out of this stalemate.
An atheist himself, Tim Crane writes that there is a fundamental flaw with most atheists’ basic approach: religion is not what they think it is. Atheists tend to treat religion as a kind of primitive cosmology, as the sort of explanation of the universe that science offers. They conclude that religious believers are irrational, superstitious, and bigoted. But this view of religion is almost entirely inaccurate. Crane offers an alternative account based on two ideas. The first is the idea of a religious impulse: the sense people have of something transcending the world of ordinary experience, even if it cannot be explicitly articulated. The second is the idea of identification: the fact that religion involves belonging to a specific social group and participating in practices that reinforce the bonds of belonging. Once these ideas are properly understood, the inadequacy of atheists’ conventional conception of religion emerges.
The Meaning of Belief does not assess the truth or falsehood of religion. Rather, it looks at the meaning of religious belief and offers a way of understanding it that both makes sense of current debate and also suggests what more intellectually responsible and practically effective attitudes atheists might take to the phenomenon of religion.
Religion without God
Ronald Dworkin Harvard University Press, 2013 Library of Congress BL51.D96 2013 | Dewey Decimal 200
In his last book, Ronald Dworkin addresses questions that men and women have asked through the ages: What is religion and what is God's place in it? What is death and what is immortality? Based on the 2011 Einstein Lectures, Religion without God is inspired by remarks Einstein made that if religion consists of awe toward mysteries which "manifest themselves in the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, and which our dull faculties can comprehend only in the most primitive forms," then, he, Einstein, was a religious person.
Dworkin joins Einstein's sense of cosmic mystery and beauty to the claim that value is objective, independent of mind, and immanent in the world. He rejects the metaphysics of naturalism--that nothing is real except what can be studied by the natural sciences. Belief in God is one manifestation of this deeper worldview, but not the only one. The conviction that God underwrites value presupposes a prior commitment to the independent reality of that value--a commitment that is available to nonbelievers as well. So theists share a commitment with some atheists that is more fundamental than what divides them. Freedom of religion should flow not from a respect for belief in God but from the right to ethical independence.
Dworkin hoped that this short book would contribute to rational conversation and the softening of religious fear and hatred. Religion without God is the work of a humanist who recognized both the possibilities and limitations of humanity.
“How has unbelief come to dominate so many Western societies? The usual account invokes the advance of science and rational knowledge. Ryrie’s alternative, in which emotions are the driving force, offers new and interesting insights into our past and present.” —Charles Taylor, author of A Secular Age
Why have societies that were once overwhelmingly Christian become so secular? We think we know the answer, pointing to science and reason as the twin culprits, but in this lively, startlingly original reconsideration, Alec Ryrie argues that people embraced unbelief much as they have always chosen their worldviews: through the heart more than the mind.
Looking back to the crisis of the Reformation and beyond, he shows how, long before philosophers started to make the case for atheism, powerful cultural currents were challenging traditional faith. As Protestant radicals eroded time-honored certainties and ushered in an age of anger and anxiety, some defended their faith by redefining it in terms of ethics, setting in motion secularizing forces that soon became transformational. Unbelievers tells a powerful emotional history of doubt with potent lessons for our own angry and anxious times.
“Well-researched and thought-provoking…Ryrie is definitely on to something right and important.” —Christianity Today
“A beautifully crafted history of early doubt…Unbelievers covers much ground in a short space with deep erudition and considerable wit.” —The Spectator
“Ryrie traces the root of religious skepticism to the anger, the anxiety, and the ‘desperate search for certainty’ that drove thinkers like…John Donne to grapple with church dogma.” —New Yorker
Thoughtful essays to revive dialogue about atheism beyond belief.
The Varieties of Atheism reveals the diverse nonreligious experiences obscured by the combative intellectualism of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. In fact, contributors contend that narrowly defining atheism as the belief that there is no god misunderstands religious and nonreligious persons altogether. The essays show that, just as religion exceeds doctrine, atheism also encompasses every dimension of human life: from imagination and feeling to community and ethics. Contributors offer new, expansive perspectives on atheism’s diverse history and possible futures. By recovering lines of affinity and tension between particular atheists and particular religious traditions, this book paves the way for fruitful conversation between religious and non-religious people in our secular age.
In Wild Experiment, Donovan O. Schaefer challenges the conventional wisdom that feeling and thinking are separate. Drawing on science studies, philosophy, affect theory, secularism studies, psychology, and contemporary literary criticism, Schaefer reconceptualizes rationality as defined by affective processes at every level. He introduces the model of “cogency theory” to reconsider the relationship between evolutionary biology and secularism, examining mid-nineteenth-century Darwinian controversies, the 1925 Scopes Trial, and the New Atheist movement of the 2000s. Along the way, Schaefer reappraises a range of related issues, from secular architecture at Oxford to American eugenics to contemporary climate denialism. These case studies locate the intersection of thinking and feeling in the way scientific rationality balances excited discovery with anxious scrutiny, in the fascination of conspiracy theories, and in how racist feelings assume the mantle of rational objectivity. The fact that cognition is felt, Schaefer demonstrates, is both why science succeeds and why it fails. He concludes that science, secularism, atheism, and reason itself are not separate from feeling but comprehensively defined by it.
In 1883 the editor of a penny newspaper stood trial three times for the "obsolete" crime of blasphemy. The editor was G. W. Foote, the paper was the Freethinker, and the trial was the defining event of the decade. Foote's "martyrdom" completed blasphemy's nineteenth-century transformation from a religious offense to a class and cultural crime.
From extensive archival and literary research, Joss Marsh reconstructs a unified and particular account of blasphemy in Victorian England. Rewriting English history from the bottom up, she tells the forgotten stories of more than two hundred working-class "blasphemers," like Foote, whose stubborn refusal to silence their "hooligan" voices helped secure our rights to speak and write freely today. The new standards of criminality used to judge their "word crimes" rewrote the terms of literary judgment, demoting the Bible to literary masterpiece and raising Literature as the primary standard of Victorian cultural value.
Michael J. Altman / Samah Choudhury / Lindsey Jackson / Christopher Cannon Jones / / Erik Kline / Dana Lloyd / Cody Musselman / Prea Persaud / Matt Sheedy / Zachary T. Smith / Brad Stoddard / Brook Wilensky-Lanford